Gov. Bobby Jindal is hardly the first person to call GOP front-runner Donald Trump fundamentally unserious, and it would take someone who can actually envision a Trump presidency without curling into the fetal position to disagree.
“Unserious” was just one of the unflattering adjectives Jindal hurled Trump’s way during his widely hyped speech before the National Press Club on Thursday morning. Jindal, whose own presidential campaign is on exactly the opposite trajectory of the bombastic developer’s, also called Trump narcissistic, egomaniacal and, for good measure, unstable.
It’s all true, even if none of it’s particularly original.
Jindal’s carefully scripted offensive did draw some much-needed national attention, even if it may well all be forgotten by next week, when the governor will, once again, be relegated to the second tier in a big national debate. Trump’s got plenty of other sparring partners in the large field, and he’s expected to share the CNN-sponsored stage Wednesday with several of them, including Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, who will probably confront him for disparaging her, um, “face.” If any of his opponents are a problem for Trump — and that’s a big if — Jindal’s nowhere near the top of the list.
Nor, frankly, is Trump Jindal’s main problem.
Sure, he’s sucking the oxygen out of the race for other candidates, but Jindal also has failed to catch on relative to the rest of the more traditional candidates. Despite an impressive résumé and a history of big electoral wins, he consistently polls behind other establishment figures, including several fellow governors.
One reason, perhaps, is that for all his claims about Trump being unserious, he’s not exactly coming across as serious, either. Jindal likes to tout the position papers he’s issued through his think tank as evidence that he remains, at heart, a policy wonk, yet he regularly resorts to gimmicky pronouncements that undermine the claim.
There was his insistence on the spread of “no-go” zones in Europe, despite local protestations and his own refusal to get specific. There was his promise to sic the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Justice and even the Environmental Protection Agency after Planned Parenthood, despite a lack of evidence that the family planning group has violated any law.
His campaign against the terms many Americans use to describe their own heritage — his oft-repeated riff on how he’s “tired of hyphenated Americans” — is frankly bizarre, as is his related claim that immigration without assimilation is “invasion.” Does he actually believe that people can’t call themselves African-American, Indian-American or Asian-American and still love their country?
Voters around the country might not notice, but his pronouncements on his record in Louisiana regularly irk his own constituents. That’s particularly true of his claim to have been a good shepherd of the state budget, which was balanced on paper this year with a hefty helping of smoke and mirrors. At the Press Club on Thursday, Jindal called Louisiana’s budget a “great example” for Washington, even as politicians back home gird for yet another round of big midyear cuts.
Jindal’s position on the current controversy of a Kentucky county clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is just one more example. Here, he actively defends a government employee who will not comply with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision and falsely claims people are being sent to jail simply because they oppose gay marriage. At the same time, he calls for prosecuting politicians who support sanctuary city policies, arguing that officials don’t get to pick and choose the laws they follow.
Jindal is right about one thing, though. There’s definitely a place in the Republican field for a serious leader, and someone will surely rise to fill that gap.
But Trump isn’t the reason Jindal’s not at the top of the list. And attacking him isn’t going to change that.